Capitol Alert

Lawmakers send Jerry Brown incomplete budget

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León, D-Los Angeles, talks with Republican colleagues Jim Nielsen of Gerber, center, and Ted Gaines of Roseville on the Senate floor Monday.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León, D-Los Angeles, talks with Republican colleagues Jim Nielsen of Gerber, center, and Ted Gaines of Roseville on the Senate floor Monday.

The budget California state lawmakers passed Monday did not reflect a deal with Gov. Jerry Brown and, for that reason, has almost no hope of being enacted.

Negotiations are ongoing.

Yet if pausing for a vote did nothing to advance fiscal policy in California, the timing mattered greatly to the 120 legislators involved.

By passing the spending bill – unfinished though it was – the Legislature met a June 15 deadline to pass a budget or give up their pay.

“It’s not a budget bill,” said Melissa Melendez, a Lake Elsinore assemblywoman who joined minority Republicans in opposition to the plan. “It’s the legislative paycheck-protection act.”

The budget includes about $749 million more in spending than Brown proposed, and majority Democrats acknowledged they will have to revisit portions of the plan.

“Is this going to be our final budget?” asked Kevin de León, the Senate president pro tem. “Unlikely.”

Yet in passing a budget, de León said the Senate was “fulfilling our constitutional obligation to our constituents and to the state of California.”

On party-line votes with Republicans opposed, the spending plan cleared the Assembly 53-27 and the Senate 26-13. Lawmakers finished by early afternoon, hours ahead of the midnight budget deadline.

When Californians approved Proposition 25 in 2010, they gave the Legislature the authority to pass budgets on a majority vote rather than two-thirds. They also required lawmakers to surrender their pay for every day they failed to meet the June 15 budget deadline.

But a budget’s passage and its enactment are different things. Including Monday, lawmakers in three of the last four years have passed a budget intending to follow up with legislation reflecting subsequent agreements with the governor.

“We stand by the budget we’ve just approved,” said Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego. “We know he’s got some reactions to some of that, but we’re doing it in discussion together. Would we like what we just passed? Absolutely, 100 percent. But we’re realistic about it.”

The $117.5 billion general fund budget passed by the Legislature relies on more optimistic revenue projections than Brown proposed last month. The Legislature’s projections – about $2.3 billion higher than Brown’s – are in line with estimates from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Last week, Keely Bosler, one of Brown’s top budget aides, called the higher revenue estimates “speculative,” and Brown, a more conservative Democrat than many lawmakers of his party, has traditionally resisted calls for increased spending.

Of additional spending proposed by legislative Democrats, the budget includes about $409 million for child care and preschool programs, including more than $260 million in general fund money. The money would fund 5,000 full-day preschool, 10,000 part-day preschool and 12,000 voucher slots.

Lawmakers are also seeking to increase funding for the California State University system, to remove a cap on welfare-to-work family grants and to restore hours for home-care workers cut during the recession.

“Today we vote on a budget that represents the Legislature’s view of California’s future,” said Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys. “A budget is really a statement of our collective priorities going forward.”

Republican lawmakers objected to both the substance of the budget plan and to its passage before the conclusion of negotiations with Brown.

Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, asked his colleagues, “Is this a real budget we are voting on today, or is it just a sham budget?”

H.D. Palmer, spokesman for Brown’s Department of Finance, on Monday characterized budget negotiations as “productive.” He said Brown is “optimistic that these discussions that we’ve had will lead to a fiscally sound budget agreement in the coming days.”

For all their differences, the gulf between Brown and lawmakers is relatively narrow, and tension surrounding this year’s spending plan is far less than during the recession.

Sen. Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat and chairman of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, said, “We are in agreement about 99.2 percent of the overall discussion here.”

Lawmakers expect to reach an agreement with Brown before the July 1 start of the 2015-16 budget year.

Even then, however, spending decisions may not entirely be settled. Brown and legislative leaders agreed earlier this month to set aside a dispute over cap-and-trade revenue, dealing with it outside the budget process.

Senate leaders have proposed about $500 million more in spending than Brown has proposed using cap-and-trade revenue – money polluters pay to offset carbon emissions.

Mike Genest, who was former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s finance director, said he doubted that voters in 2010 knew they were embracing a budget deadline that “could just be done away with on a technicality.”

As lawmakers were preparing to take up their budget bill Monday, he said, “The Legislature has always been pretty arrogant.”